Tonsils and adenoids are masses of tissue that are similar to the lymph nodes or “glands” found in the neck, groin, and armpits. Tonsils are the two masses on the back of the throat. Adenoids are high in the throat behind the nose and the roof of the mouth (soft palate) and are not visible through the mouth without special instruments.
Tonsils and adenoids are near the entrance to the breathing passages where they can catch incoming germs, which cause infections. They “sample” bacteria and viruses and can become infected themselves. Scientists believe they work as part of the body’s immune system by filtering germs that attempt to invade the body, and that they help to develop antibodies to germs.
This happens primarily during the first few years of life, becoming less important as we get older. Children who must have their tonsils and adenoids removed suffer no loss in their resistance.
What affects Tonsils and Adenoids?
The most common problems affecting the tonsils and adenoids are recurrent infections (throat or ear) and significant enlargement or obstruction that causes breathing and swallowing problems.
Abscesses around the tonsils, chronic tonsillitis, and infections of small pockets within the tonsils that produce foul-smelling, cheese-like formations can also affect the tonsils and adenoids, making them sore and swollen. Tumors are rare, but can grow on the tonsils.
Tonsillitis and Its Symptoms
Tonsillitis is an infection in one or both tonsils. One sign is swelling of the tonsils. Other signs or symptoms are:
- Redder than normal tonsils
- A white or yellow coating on the tonsils
- A slight voice change due to swelling
- Sore throat
- Uncomfortable or painful swallowing
- Swollen lymph nodes (glands) in the neck
- Bad breath
A tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of the tonsils (two oval-shaped pads located in the back of the throat on each side), performed on patients with recurring episodes of tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils) or for an infection that has not gotten better with other treatment. In some cases, a tonsillectomy may be performed if enlarged tonsils block normal breathing. This can lead to problems such as sleep apnea and difficulty eating. Occasionally, a tonsillectomy may be performed to treat cancer. A tonsillectomy is much more common for children than for adults. The surgery is most often an outpatient procedure in an ambulatory surgical center.
An adenoidectomy is the surgical removal of the adenoid glands. Adenoids are small lumps of tissue in the back of the throat that help fight ear, nose, and throat infections. The majority of adenoidectomies are performed in children. The adenoids usually shrink by adolescence, so adults rarely undergo the procedure. An adenoidectomy may be needed if the adenoids become infected and swell up, blocking the nose and making it difficult to breathe. Swollen adenoids may also result in sleep apnea, chronic snoring, ear infections, and difficulty swallowing. Adenoidectomies are usually performed on an outpatient basis using a general anesthetic.
Swollen adenoids are often associated with tonsillitis and may be removed as part of an operation to remove the tonsils. This procedure is called an adenotonsillectomy.
At Pacific Head & Neck, we provide thorough evaluation and treatment regimes, please visit our Contact Us page or complete the form below.